I woke up in the hospital again, attached to an I.V.. Adam sat in the chair beside me. I stared at him silently. He read a paperback, thoroughly engrossed. I hadn’t imagined him to be a reader. I wondered why he sat there, why he sat in my room. Waiting for me?
That’s when I panicked. Why was I in the hospital again? What had happened? I tried to get up but felt too heavy, weighted.
“What’s wrong with me?” My voice sounded thin, a sliver against the background hospital hum. Adam dropped the book, grabbed my wrist. I pulled away from him.
“You’re okay? Are you okay?” He didn’t wait for an answer, ran to the door, pulled it open, yelled out into the hallway, “Mom, Dad! She’s awake!” He rushed back over to me.
“What happened?” I say.
“You passed out.” He looked... something. I couldn’t fathom what he was thinking, but his eyes looked fierce. “Were you trying to kill yourself? Or just on some totally stupid diet? Damn! You were, like, totally starving yourself to death.”
“What are you upset about?”
Mr. and Mrs. Grant hurried into the room then, surrounded my bed. I felt small.
“You frightened me, Violet,” Mrs. Grant said.
Great. “I’m sorry, okay? I wasn’t trying to do anything. I just forget to eat. Okay? Over? Can we go?”
Mr. Grant shook his head, frowning. “I’m sorry, Violet. I’m afraid this is more serious than that. You’ll have to stay on the I.V. and Dr. Kilpatrick isn’t happy with you at all. I doubt he’ll release you tonight.”
I thought of art class. “But I have to go to school tomorrow. I’m taking my paintings in to ... The teacher wants to see them. I’ve...” I made myself shut up.
Once they knew what was important to me they could use that against me. If I’d been living with Mother this never would have happened. She wouldn’t have brought me to the stupid hospital in the first place. “This is not a big deal.” I tried to get them to understand. “I’ll be more careful. I’ll set my phone to beep every hour, to remind myself to eat something, okay? I’ll do whatever you want, just please, let me out of here.” I stopped myself. Begging. I couldn’t believe I begged them to take me back.
Mrs. Grant reached out to touch my arm. I pulled away. “Violet, it’s not our decision. You were dehydrated, weak as a dry twig. Once you’re rehydrated they’ll let you go. You can take your paintings to school when you get out. We’ll e-mail the teacher. It’s okay. You’ll be fine.”
The door opened and in blustered one of the doctors from before. He had been a cipher to me then, a walrus in a white coat. Now he stood between Mr. and Mrs. Grant, scowling at me. I crossed my arms over my stomach, felt my toes curl under the blanket. Adam pulled the chair over to the other side and sat next to me. I breathed easier with him near me. I glared at him for that.
“So, young lady, you’ve not been eating, eh? That’s foolish. It’s an unsafe way to lose weight, especially with burns like yours. Your body needs fuel to heal. That means food. I want you to gain thirty pounds in the next few months.”
I felt like puking onto his shoes. I couldn’t begin to imagine the amount of food that would entail.
“You’ll spend the night here, we’ll force enough saline in you to sink the Titanic, and see how you’re doing in the morning. How do the burns feel?”
“Well, I suppose that’s what’s to be expected.” He whisked out. I hated him.
Adam took my wrist again. “Thirty pounds? How much do you weigh now?”
I tried to pull my wrist away but gave up when he wouldn’t let go. I plucked the thermal blanket with the other hand to distract myself. “I don’t know.” I never weighed myself. My body was of no concern to me. I hated the thing, short and angular and graceless.
“You were one hundred when you checked out two days ago.” Mrs. Grant says.
I blinked. Really? That bad? Why was I such a freak?
“No shit,” Adam whispered.
“Don’t swear, Adam.” Mr. Grant frowned at Adam.
“Violet.” Mrs. Grant touched my shoulder. “We have to go. Visiting hours are already over. Tomorrow we’ll come ’round, though, okay?”
Mr. Grant and Adam left after some awkward goodbyes while Mrs. Grant hung back. After the guys were gone she perched on the edge of my bed and handed me the book she’d written, the one I’d chosen.
“I want you to have this, Violet. To keep.”
“To keep?” Not sure what to say, I stared down at my legs. Why would she do that? I couldn’t remember the last time Mother gave me a present for any reason, much less for no reason. I didn’t know what to think. But an idea grew in my mind, a small hope: maybe I could tell Mrs. Grant about the eating thing, my hatred of it. She might listen to me.
“Mrs. Grant, the thought of food makes me gag. I mean, I dunno. I don’t think... I mean... I just...” And I started to cry. Why the fuck did I start crying? My breath grew shallow and a ball formed under my breast. I willed myself to stop. What the hell was wrong with me? A tiny little noise escaped me. I could’ve cut my eyes out.
I shook my head, unable to speak. It was no use. I couldn’t stop. I had learned very young not to cry in front of my Mother. It had been one of the stupidest things to do in front of her, it made her so angry. I was so sure Mrs. Grant would do something awful. I braced myself.
Mrs. Grant touched my arm softly, just a bit, but I jerked away. “It’s okay, Violet. I’m not going to hurt you, okay? It’s okay to cry. It’s good to cry.” She touched my arm again and I didn’t jerk, just kind of shifted away. “Violet, I care about you. I’m sorry you can’t trust me yet. I hope maybe one day you will. I know this is just exhaustion. I have an idea as to where your relationship with food comes from. You can talk about it with your therapist, okay? Maybe think about five pounds in the next few months, instead of thirty. You can do this. You’re strong.”
I sniffled and she handed a tissue to me from the box next to my bed and I wiped my nose. “I don’t feel strong.”
She laughed a little, a low sort of chuckle. “Believe it, honey. You’re as strong as they come. I’ll see you tomorrow?” I nodded. “Okay. Call me. If you need anything. If you want to talk.”
“I don’t know the number.” Did I even want it? Shocked inside to realize that yes, yes, a bit of me did.
Could I possibly let that still, small bit of me grow, like a fiddlehead unfurling?
She patted my ankle, pointed at the book she’d given me sitting on the bed beside my thigh. “I wrote it on the inside cover.”
I stared at the book again, afraid that it might be a setup or something. “Why are you giving this to me?”
“Because you surprise me.”
I stared at the simple paperback, felt as though I might start to cry again. “Thank you. I mean, I... Thank you. Really.”
“You’re welcome. I mean it. Call me whatever time.”
She left and I felt so incredibly strange. I couldn’t recognize the feeling. But it felt so similar to when I would take a walk out in the sage with Uncle Stephen, far away from mother.
As if I were safe, somehow.
Not because Anna had left but because she’d been here.
The next day they released me to Mrs. Grant late in the afternoon. We drove to the house in silence, snow drifting from the sky, dancing across the roads. First snow of the year, falling from a grey down-comforter sky. I tried to think of things to say but nothing came to mind. Bluegrass swirled around us, made me settle into the seat.
At a red light we stopped. I looked in the car next to us. A woman and what looked to be her son argued. He yelled, gesticulating and she kept shaking her head, looking out the front window.
I didn’t understand families. It seemed to me that they were the people you were supposed to trust, the ones who were supposed to love you. That wasn’t the way it turned out, though. It turned out they were the only people who could truly hurt you, betray you. Destroy you.
“I feel like throwing up,” I gripped the door handle, breathed through my nose, willed myself to not puke. The red light turned green.
“Should I pull over?”
I shook my head. “No. No. It’ll pass.” The other car turned right. We pulled away from them and I leaned my head against the cool window. My face looked back at me in the reflection. Like a memory. “I’ll be fine.”
“Violet? Is there anything I can do to help?”
“You know. Figuring things out. I’m sure this is a painful process for you. Being taken away from your home. Forced to see things, familiar things, from a different point of view. I’d like to help if I could.”
“I’ve never needed help. I’m not gonna start now.”
But inside I didn’t feel that way. Inside I wanted to hold on to her, let her seep into my bones like an elixir. Like she could be the cure to all that ailed me. I shook my head. Such an idiot, to think there could be anything that would fix me. That somehow I could be worth fixing.